By KATHRYN BOWDEN -- St. Petersburg Times -- May 20, 1998
ST. PETERSBURG -- The tick-tock-tick-tock from the wall clock acted as an abacus while the junior mathematicians worked the problem before them -- counting, counting, counting.
South Pinellas elementary school students from fourth- and fifth- grade gifted programs settled into a desk, their pencils and wits sharpened, to show what they knew about graphs, fractions, geometry, logic and word problems in a competition against their peers
Math Meet '98 is the reason these 73 kids want to work on math problems instead of counting the minutes until class is over.
The competition began in 1989 when gifted program teacher Karen James, then of Oakhurst Elementary School in Seminole, wrote a grant application called "Mathimize." Her idea was to showcase elementary- aged children who had talent in solving problems.
"We really wanted to honor those kids who had real talent in math, like those kids honored in sports," James said. "The meet really highlighted the kids' talents and they really wanted to be on the team. Whether they won individually or as a team, the kids were all so proud of each other."
This year's competition was held April 2-3 at the Area III Gifted Center, next to Hamilton-Disston Elementary School in St. Petersburg.
"Some of the math problems were really tough," teacher Sally Hansen said. "Each team had only four minutes to figure out the math problem given to them. If they finished the problem but it wasn't correct, they didn't receive any points, meaning they didn't win that round."
Hansen said the children were learning that it wasn't always best to finish first if they didn't have the right answer.
"What we were trying to do was emphasize problem solving while at the same time make competitive math projects fun."
There were team and individual winners. (See box.)
"These kids have been preparing for this Math Meet since last fall," Hansen said. "They get such a sense of self-satisfaction when they win or even when they see their team or teammates win. And they all have a lot of fun competing against other kids by working through math problems. This is what we wanted to achieve: kids learning and having fun while doing so."